Text and photo (c) Robert Barry Francos
Along with Neil Postman and Terence Moran, Christine Nystrom helped co-found the Media Ecology department at New York University during the very early 1970s. I stumbled into the program in 1990. My one regret through earning my degree was that I did not get to take any classes with Chris.
That being said, there were many times I have had the pleasure to have shared conversations, dining room tables, and just hung out with Chris socially a number of times during the Media Ecology Departmental Conferences that were held in Upstate New York, first at Sack's Lodge (Saugerties), and then at Williams Lake (Rosendale). Then there was a NYU-sponsored summer program in Tel Aviv in which she was present.
There are going to be lots of stories about Chris: how she was on dissertation committees, how she affected careers, and how she mentored future professors, but what I want to share is an annectote of a very personal moment shared with her.
One year up in Rosendale in the late 1990s, it had been annouced that there would be a major meteor shower, which would be severely hindered visually (if not visible) from New York City, due to light pollution. But at William's Lake, the sky was clear and lights were minimal. Chris and I decided to get a view, so we grabbed some full-length lawn chairs and a couple of bankets (as it was in November), and we settled in, right in front of the cabins. While we invited others, no one cared to join after a full day of academic brain-twisting.
We sat under the stars watching them streak across the sky and talked most of the night, when we weren't nodding in and out, and stayed the night enconsed and freezing in the open air under the thin blankets. It was a night I treasure, though most of what we talked about was scattered and life-centered, rather than about Media Ecology; though I did get to hear some great departmental gossip and goings-on.
The sun came up, and we probably had a couple of hours sleep in total, not to mention being incredibly stiff for a while thanks to the chairs. We also both came down with bad colds a few days later, but we agreed it was worth it.
The last time I saw Chris was at the Institute of General Semantics gathering in September 2009, where she was presented an award by her former student, Lance Strate (picture above). It was great to see her, and to share a moment. A lot of people wanted her time so we only had a chance for quick greetings. However, I don't think I'll ever see another shooting star without thinking of Chris.